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COP21 Wraps Up, Saudi Women Candidates, Kiwi Flag

COP21 Wraps Up, Saudi Women Candidates, Kiwi Flag

COP21 WRAPS UP, TALKS CONTINUE

The COP21 climate change conference in Paris will close later today without a deal, though French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius said negotiations would continue into the weekend and that a final agreement would probably be adopted tomorrow, Le Monde reports. After almost two weeks of intense talks, a few roadblocks remain, including on the temperature rise limit and funding for the world’s least developed countries.


SYRIA REBELS AGREE TO ASSAD TALKS

Syrian opposition and rebel groups gathered in Riyadh have agreed to participate in UN-sponsored talks with the government of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, though they insist on his resignation, Al Jazeera reports. Terror groups ISIS and the al-Nusra Front are notably not attending the summit in Riyadh. The UN-backed meeting between rebel groups and the Syrian government could take place in early January.


WORLDCRUNCH-TO-GO

More and more universities around the world offer so-called Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs). But with top Munich universities using the online education provider Coursera, doubts are growing over security and the selling of customer data, Süddeutsche Zeitung reports. “When you digitalize learning, it also means that an awful lot of information is generated. But it is not only the students who can access outside information. Companies such as Coursera, which make the course materials available online and look after the students, also get access to a lot of information about their users. Which students study what? Who studies how much? Who studies fast and who studies slowly? What are the individual student’s talents? Who is failing a course? This data is sensitive, but also quite useful from Coursera’s point of view. While Coursera earns money from students signing up to their courses, they also have the possibility to sell the student’s data: to prospective employers, for example, who want to know how the applicant did during the course.”

Read the full article, MOOCs And Privacy, German Fears About Online Student Data.


MOST-WANTED RWANDA MAN ARRESTED

Ladislas Ntaganzwa, a former Rwandan mayor accused of being involved in the massacre of 20,000 Tutsis during the 1994 genocide, was arrested this week in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo, The New York Times reports. Rwanda has requested that Ntaganzwa stand trial there. He’s accused of crimes against humanity, including genocide and rape. Eight other figures who are also believed to have perpetrated the genocide that killed between 800,000 and 1 million people are still on the run.


MACRI SWORN IN

“I want to be the president of a united Argentina,” Argentina’s oldest daily La Capital quotes the country's new leader Mauricio Macri as saying today, a day after he was sworn in as president.

Read more from Le Blog.


YEMEN SCHOOLS BOMBED

About 34% of Yemeni children haven’t been able to attend school since the beginning of a Saudi-led offensive against Houthi rebels, an Amnesty International report says, citing fears of airstrikes and damage inflicted by bombings since March. The strikes “have not only killed and injured civilians and destroyed civilian property but have a grave and far-reaching impact on access to health care, the delivery of humanitarian aid, on children’s education, and on the ability of civilians to provide for their families,” the NGO writes, expressing concern for the lack of investigation from both the Saudi coalition and the officially recognized Yemeni government into the illegal targeting of school buildings.


ON THIS DAY


As the Paris COP21 wraps up, today is the 18th anniversary of the Kyoto Protocol to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. That and more in your 57-second shot of history.


FIRST WOMEN RUN IN SAUDI ELECTIONS

About 900 Saudi Arabian women are preparing for tomorrow’s local elections, the first nationwide poll in which women have been allowed to run. “I’m doing this for my daughters,” one of the candidates told The Independent. “They are witnessing a new way to be a Saudi woman.” But there are still many prohibitions on Saudi women, among them driving.


$1.76 MILLION

Photo: Dennis Van Tine/UPPA/ZUMA

Janis Joplin’s psychedelic 1964 Porsche 356 was sold yesterday at RM Sotheby’s for $1.76 million, three times more than the most hopeful expectation.


REVISED HAJJ STAMPEDE DEATH TOLL

At least 2,411 Muslim pilgrims died in the September stampede during the Hajj in Mecca, Saudi Arabia, according to new data revealed by AP. The figures are three times higher than what the kingdom’s authorities have acknowledged. Iran was the worst-hit country, with 464 pilgrims killed.


MY GRAND-PÈRE’S WORLD



ALTERNATIVE KIWI FLAG

New Zealanders have chosen a mash-up of their current flag and of their national rugby team symbol as the best alternative to replace a national flag that some believe is too similar to that of neighboring Australia, the New Zealand Herald reports. But more than half of the population didn’t participate in the controversial vote, which has been criticized for its cost and timing. The final decision will be made in March.

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Green

Ecological Angst In India, A Mining Dumpsite As Neighbor

Local villagers in western India have been forced to live with a mining waste site on the edge of town. What happens when you wake up one day and the giant mound of industrial waste has imploded?

The mining dumpsite is situated just outside of the Badi village in the coastal state of Gujarat

Sukanya Shantha

BADI — Last week, when the men and women from the Bharwad community in this small village in western India stepped out for their daily work to herd livestock, they were greeted with a strange sight.

The 20-meter-high small hill that had formed at the open-cast mining dumpsite had suddenly sunk. Unsure of the reason behind the sudden caving-in, they immediately informed other villagers. In no time, word had traveled far, even drawing the attention of environment specialists and activists from outside town.

This mining dumpsite situated less than 500 meters outside of the Badi village in the coastal state of Gujarat has been a matter of serious concern ever since the Gujarat Power Corporation Limited began lignite mining work here in early 2017. The power plant is run by the Power Gujarat State Electricity Corporation Limited, which was previously known as the Bhavnagar Energy Company Ltd.

Vasudev Gohil, a 43-year-old resident of Badi village says that though the dumping site is technically situated outside the village, locals must pass the area on a daily basis.


"We are constantly on tenterhooks and looking for danger signs," he says. Indeed, their state of alert is how the sudden change in the shape of the dumpsite was noticed in the first place.

Can you trust environmental officials?

For someone visiting the place for the first time, the changes may not stand out. "But we have lived all our lives here, we know every little detail of this village. And when a 150-meter-long stretch cave-in by over 25-30 feet, the change can't be overlooked," Gohil adds.

This is not the first time that the dumpsite has worried local residents. Last November, a large part of the flattened part of the dumpsite had developed deep cracks and several flat areas had suddenly got elevated. While the officials had attributed this significant elevation to the high pressure of water in the upper strata of soil in the region, environment experts had pointed to seismic activities. The change is evident even today, nearly a year since it happened.

It could have sunk because of the rain.

After the recent incident, when the villagers raised an alarm and sent a written complaint to the regional Gujarat Pollution Control Board, an official visit to the site was arranged, along with the district administration and the mining department.

The regional pollution board officer Bhavnagar, A.G. Oza, insists the changes "aren't worrisome" and attributes it to the weather.

"The area received heavy rain this time. It is possible that the soil could have sunk in because of the rain," he tells The Wire. The Board, he says, along with the mining department, is now trying to assess if the caving-in had any impact on the ground surface.

"We visited the site as soon as a complaint was made. Samples have already been sent to the laboratory and we will have a clear idea only once the reports are made available," Oza adds.

Women from the Surkha village have to travel several kilometers to find potable water

Sukanya Shantha/The Wire

A questionable claim

That the dumpsite had sunk in was noticeable for at least three days between October 1 and 3, but Rohit Prajapati of an environmental watchdog group Paryavaran Suraksha Samiti, noted that it was not the first time.

"This is the third time in four years that something so strange is happening. It is a disaster in the making and the authorities ought to examine the root cause of the problem," Prajapati says, adding that the department has repeatedly failed to properly address the issue.

He also contests the GPCB's claim that excess rain could lead to something so drastic. "Then why was similar impact not seen on other dumping sites in the region? One cannot arrive at conclusions for geological changes without a deeper study of them," he says. "It can have deadly implications."

Living in pollution

The villagers have also accused the GPCB of overlooking their complaint of water pollution which has rendered a large part of the land, most importantly, the gauchar or grazing land, useless.

"In the absence of a wall or a barrier, the pollutant has freely mixed with the water bodies here and has slowly started polluting both our soil and water," complains 23- year-old Nikul Kantharia.

He says ever since the mining project took off in the region, he, like most other villagers has been forced to take his livestock farther away to graze. "Nothing grows on the grazing land anymore and the grass closer to the dumpsite makes our cattle ill," Kantharia claims.

The mining work should have been stopped long ago

Prajapati and Bharat Jambucha, a well-known environmental activist and proponent of organic farming from the region, both point to blatant violations of environmental laws in the execution of mining work, with at least 12 violations cited by local officials. "But nothing happened after that. Mining work has continued without any hassles," Jambucha says. Among some glaring violations include the absence of a boundary wall around the dumping site and proper disposal of mining effluents.

The mining work has also continued without a most basic requirement – effluent treatment plant and sewage treatment plant at the mining site, Prajapati points out. "The mining work should have been stopped long ago. And the company should have been levied a heavy fine. But no such thing happened," he adds.

In some villages, the groundwater level has depleted over the past few years and villagers attribute it to the mining project. Women from Surkha village travel several kilometers outside for potable water. "This is new. Until five years ago, we had some water in the village and did not have to lug water every day," says Shilaben Kantharia.

The mine has affected the landscape around the villages

Sukanya Shantha/The Wire

Resisting lignite mining

The lignite mining project has a long history of resistance. Agricultural land, along with grazing land were acquired from the cluster of 12 adjoining villages in the coastal Ghogha taluka between 1994 and 1997. The locals estimate that villagers here lost anything between 40-100% of their land to the project. "We were paid a standard Rs 40,000 per bigha," Narendra, a local photographer, says.

The money, Narendra says, felt decent in 1994 but for those who had been dependent on this land, the years to come proved very challenging. "Several villagers have now taken a small patch of land in the neighboring villages on lease and are cultivating cotton and groundnut there," Narendra says.

They were dependent on others' land for work.

Bharat Jambucha says things get further complicated for the communities which were historically landless. "Most families belonging to the Dalit or other marginalized populations in the region never owned any land. They were dependent on others' land for work. Once villagers lost their land to the project, the landless were pushed out of the village," he adds. His organization, Prakrutik Kheti Juth, has been at the forefront, fighting for the rights of the villages affected in the lignite mining project.

In 2017, when the mining project finally took off, villagers from across 12 villages protested. The demonstration was disrupted after police used force and beat many protesters. More than 350 of them were booked for rioting.

The villagers, however, did not give up. Protests and hunger strikes have continued from time to time. A few villagers even sent a letter to the President of India threatening that they would commit suicide if the government did not return their land.

"We let them have our land for over 20 years," says Gohil.

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